Last night’s Glee tribute did a wonderful job of celebrating the life of Finn Hudson, the fictional high school quarterback played by Cory Monteith. However it did a pretty poor job of honoring Cory Monteith, the Glee actor who tragically died of a drug overdose this summer.
When the news first broke about Cory’s death and conversation turned to how Glee would respond, I thought their initial ideas were right on. They would have Finn die on the show of unknown causes and honor his memory through song. However as the episode drew closer and as we learned more about how Cory Monteith’s struggle with addiction, the whole thing started to seem more like a ratings stunt and less like a tribute. We listened to Lea Michele say odd things about losing two people (Finn and Cory) and we listened to Mike O’Malley ask people to watch both this tribute and his new show and we started to feel uncomfortable. If this was just a very special episode about a character dying, it would be fine. But it wasn’t. A real life person died. Somewhere along the line that seemed to have gotten lost.
After watching the episode, I can’t help but feel that they did Cory’s memory a dishonor by obscuring how he died on the show. At one point early on, Kurt says something along the lines of, “everyone wants to talk about how he died, but that was just one moment in his entire life.” Which, I’ll admit, is a lovely thought on the surface. No addict wants to be defined by their addiction. But it’s an irresponsible thought for a show to express when they know so many young people are watching. His addiction might not have defined him, but it most definitely killed him. By pretending that it wasn’t a big part of his life, that it was just a moment, is to pretend that he was in control of the situation. We already live in a society where addicts are blamed for their addictions. So it does a real disservice to them to perpetuate that myth with quotes like this. Addiction is not a moment, it’s not one bad decision, it’s a debilitating condition that rarely ends well for the addict.
Some might argue that this episode wasn’t about Cory, but instead about Finn Hudson. But it wasn’t. Not only because the hashtag #rememberingcory was at the bottom of the screen throughout the entire episode, but because Cory Moneith played Finn Hudson and their stories are completely intertwined — whether Ryan Murphy likes it or not. While there were certainly moments that made me tear up, there were more moments where I felt manipulated by the episode. It was designed to make you cry rather than to make you reflect.
We, and I’m speaking for all the people who don’t personally know Cory Monteith, don’t get to cry over this death for weeks on end. We don’t get to mourn him and talk about him and tell people how his death affects us. We didn’t know him and pretending otherwise is selfish and insensitive to everyone who did. His memory can best be honored by working to prevent another death like his. And the best way to do that is to acknowledge his addiction and acknowledge that fighting it is an uphill battle that requires knowledge, patience and honesty.
If Glee really wanted to honor Cory Monteith, they could’ve done some kind of telethon where the actors (not the characters) sang songs and raised money for drug addiction. They could’ve informed their fans that Finn would no longer be on the show for obvious reasons and that out of his respect for his life and his tragic death, they would not be talking about him on the show. I know that’s hard for fans of the show, but it’s just a show and Finn was just a character on it. Cory Monteith was a real live person who deserved better than this.